Why is COVID so bad in Michigan right now?

Many potential factors at play

We want to get some context into what's happening with this sudden surge. For that, we're speaking with Dr. Frank McGeorge who works in an ER and is seeing first hand how bad the situation is. Read more: https://www.clickondetroit.com/news/michigan/2021/11/17/cases-surge-in-new-covid-hot-spots-of-michigan-minnesota/

DETROIT – Michigan’s fourth wave has reached a new height. Our 7-day moving new case average is now 7,353 -- the highest we’ve recorded for the entire pandemic. But why? Why is Michigan experiencing this large and extended surge now?

Experts believe there are many potential factors at play.

Data: Michigan seeing highest COVID case numbers in US

Children age 10-19

One major factor is clearly the impact of cases rising in school age children. The highest case rate is now in children ages 10-19. That age group makes up 12.7% of Michigan’s population, but accounts for 17.3% of the state’s new COVID cases in the last 28 days.

Unlike last fall, this age group is back in school for face-to-face learning and back to participating in extracurricular activities as well.

Cases are also rising in younger children, with 10.9% of Michigan’s COVID cases occurring in ages 0 to 9. Experts hope that as more children age 5 to 11 are vaccinated, these numbers will decrease.

Read: What to know about vaccines for kids aged 5-11

More contagious variant

We are also dealing with a different version of the virus than last fall.

The delta variant is currently the dominant variant in the United States. According to the CDC, the delta variant is more than twice as contagious as previous variants and thus spreads much more easily from person to person.

Most precautions dropped

You’ve probably noticed the majority people are no longer wearing masks in public.

Michigan dropped the most of its public health orders on large gatherings and mask use on June 22.

However, the CDC still recommends that vaccinated people wear a mask indoors in public if they are in an area of substantial or high transmission, which currently applies to all of Michigan.

Click here to view the CDC’s COVID data tracker.

Read: COVID cases are spiking in Michigan: Why haven’t state officials taken new action?

Breakthrough cases

While the majority of those hospitalized and dying from COVID continue to be unvaccinated, breakthrough cases are increasing.

In October, 27% of new cases in Michigan were breakthrough cases. That still means 73% were in the unvaccinated, but clearly fully vaccinated people are becoming infected.

There is growing evidence that protection from the vaccines decreases over time. Approximately 60% of adults are now eligible to receive a booster dose. The FDA and CDC are expected to expand that eligibility to all adults in the coming days.

The unvaccinated

One viewer recently asked, “Aren’t we out of unvaccinated people yet? How is it possible that there are still so many people getting infected?”

While many no doubt share that thought, the reality is that only 54.7% of Michigan residents age 5 and up are fully vaccinated.  With a population of 9,420,414 that still leaves 4,264,635 unvaccinated people, plus children under age 5 who aren’t eligible to be vaccinated.

Some of those 4 million have been recently infected and have natural immunity, but there are obviously still plenty of people at risk.

None of these factors explain why Michigan in particular is doing so poorly compared to some other parts of the country right now. There is a cyclical nature to this virus that we don’t truly understand yet.

We’ve seen the waves sweep across the country, ebbing and flowing at various times in various places. One thing is for certain, with the holidays approaching there is growing concern that cases in Michigan could continue to stay high for several weeks to come.

Read: Complete Michigan COVID coverage

Dr. Frank McGeorge has everything you need to know about the COVID booster vaccine.

Questions about coronavirus? Ask Dr. McGeorge